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Poorer families less likely to access funded childcare

By Rachel Lawler

Child in playground funded childcare
New research from the London School of Economics suggests that free early education disproportionately benefits children from higher income families.
 
The research found that around one third of children from low-income families delay taking up their funded early education place. Just one sixth of children from higher-income families do the same.
 
Delayed take-up
Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the researchers examined the National Pupil Database and asked whether children using a funded place in January 2011 had started attending when they were first eligible or not. Just over 18% said that they delayed taking up the funded place.
 
Children who claim free school meals in early primary school were 13% less likely to attend their funded place for five fill terms than their peers from higher-income families.
 
Children who speak English as an additional language are three times less likely to take up five terms of early education as those who speak English at home.
 
Who benefits?
The researchers’ paper, “Universal” early education: who benefits?, says: “With over £2,000 now allocated annually to each eligible child, these places have become the central initiative aimed at creating a more equitable start for children in England.
 
“This is especially true given the squeeze since 2010 on funding for other early childhood initiatives, including Sure Start children’s centres, as well as reductions in cash benefits for families with young children.”
 
The paper also argues that recent policy changes are reinforcing these trends. It says: “The new extension of the free entitlement to 30 hours applies to children of working parents only, while age eligibility follows the same rules as the 15 hours.”
 
Low income children "miss out"
Dr Tammy Campbell, author of the report, commented: “The families who are benefitting most from the policy are those who are already advantaged in many ways – while low income children miss out.”
 
She added: “It’s time for a clear and transparent reassessment of the purpose of funding for the pre-school stage – looking properly at which children win under the current system, and who misses out.”
 
Proper funding
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said: “Despite the government continuing to stress the need to improve social mobility, here we have yet more evidence that the so-called free entitlement schemes in this country disproportionately benefit more well-off families.
 
“If ministers are genuinely committed to closing the gap between more disadvantaged children and their peers, then they need to look again at ‘free’ childcare and ensure both that the scheme is properly funded, now and in the future, and that those families who would benefit most from increased access to quality childcare aren’t missing out.”
 
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